Monday, June 25, 2012
Monarchist Profile: General Sir Henry Clinton
Clinton gave good service, made profitable friendships, married a member of the landed gentry and even gained as a patron the Duke of Gloucester, the brother of the new King George III. After serving in Gibraltar for a time Clinton was promoted to major general in 1772 and was elected to a seat in the House of Commons. He also gained further military experience touring installations of the Imperial Russian Army in the Balkans, witnessed some clashes with the formidable Ottoman Empire (even met some Turkish envoys who he described as “very civil”) and had an audience in Vienna with Emperor Joseph II. It was upon his return to England that he learned about the outbreak of rebellion in America and was ordered by King George III to proceed there along with his fellow major generals William Howe and John Burgoyne to bring a quick end to this challenge to the authority of the Crown. Their immediate goal was to relieve the besieged British forces in Boston under General Thomas Gage. The result was the first major clash of the war, the battle of Bunker Hill.
There was no doubt that Clinton was an extremely capable military commander but his own personality often worked against him. This was especially true following the death of his wife when Clinton became noticeably more difficult. He had also earlier been dispatched by General Howe to lead the campaign in the southern colonies but a delay suffered by the Royal Navy and bad weather helped turn the expedition into a dismal failure, a soft spot for General Clinton who did not respond well to criticism (who does?). He returned to New England where he captured Newport, Rhode Island after which he went back to Great Britain in early 1777. When Burgoyne was chosen by the King and Lord Germain to lead the northern offensive coming down from Canada Clinton tried to resign but was refused. He was knighted and returned to New York to resume his post as Howe’s deputy, though neither man was happy about it.
General Clinton also faced a Continental Army that had become much more disciplined and well trained than the one he and Howe had chased from pillar to post in New York. Clinton was thus forced to adopt a generally defensive strategy with British forces concentrating on holding key strategic ports, with supply and mobility dependent on the Royal Navy, rather than undertaking any grand offensives to wipe out the Continental Army. Clinton, who had seemed so daring as a subordinate, found himself to be a very cautious commander, which even he realized, referring to himself on one occasion as “a shy bitch”. Still, he executed a brilliant march to New York during which time Washington tried to win a decisive victory over him at the bloody battle of Monmouth. Usually dismissed as a stalemate, it is hard to see how this should not be considered a victory for Clinton even if a less than decisive one. Even though Washington caught the rear of the British army, Clinton fended off his attacks, losing less men than Washington while still managing to complete his movement to New York as planned while the rebel goal of destroying his army had failed. It would be the last major battle in the northern theatre as attention turned toward the southern colonies where Lord Cornwallis was dispatched to restore Crown authority and rather the many loyalists of the region.
In 1780, after British forces captured Savannah, Georgia General Clinton led another attack on Charleston, South Carolina. He more than made up for his earlier defeat there and after a successful siege operation forced the surrender of the city and the entire 5,000-man garrison. It was a stupendous victory for the British and the costliest defeat the American rebels would suffer in the entire war. With such a great success under his belt, Clinton left Cornwallis to command the southern campaign while he returned to New York to direct overall operations on the continent. Lord Cornwallis won a string of victories but tensions between him and Clinton only increased. Cornwallis blamed Clinton for indecisiveness while Clinton accused Cornwallis of insubordination and trying to run his own war. When a French naval victory ultimately bottled up Cornwallis at Yorktown the end was at hand. Clinton organized a rescue operation but was too late to save his subordinate who surrendered in 1782, effectively ending the war. Clinton offered his resignation again and it was finally accepted, turning command over to General Sir Guy Carleton. Unfortunately, despite being blamed for the defeat at Yorktown, Clinton was not allowed a court martial to clear his name.